It is not every day that a man over 100 years of age survives COVID-19, but that is exactly what happened to Aziz Abdul Alim, a 103-year old man from Upper Chitral, the remote mountainous region of Upper Chitral in Northern Pakistan.
When he came to the Emergency Response Centre in Booni, Upper Chitral, he was doing quite poorly. “We were very worried about my father’s poor health,” reflects Sohail, Mr Alim’s son. “We felt there was no hope of survival.”
Mr Alim was admitted to the newly established Aga Khan Emergency Response Centre in Booni, Upper Chitral, on 1 July 2020. After testing positive for COVID-19, he spent nearly two weeks at the Emergency Response Centre. He was stabilised and eventually discharged in stable condition and showing no symptoms on 13 July 2020.
“We treated Mr Aziz as a high-risk patient given his advanced age and provided the appropriate medical care along with psychosocial and moral support -- equally important during these distressing times,” said Miraj Uddin, Regional Head for Chitral, Aga Khan Health Service, Pakistan (AKHS,P).
Having an Emergency Response Centre for COVID-19 in Booni helped. Seeing a critical gap in adequate healthcare facilities to manage COVID-19 patients, the Aga Khan Health Service Pakistan established the Emergency Response Centre in Booni earlier in May with funds raised from a combination of sources, including Global Affairs Canada, European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), and AKDN's internal resources.
The 28-bed COVID-19 care facility offers separate accommodation for both male and female patients and is designed to treat patients with moderate, severe and critical COVID-19 symptoms. The facility is run by a staff of 32 including eight doctors and 20 nurses equipped with essential material and supplies including medicine and personal protective equipment (PPE) for patients.
“In a short span of time we have successfully treated 59 COVID-19 patients at this facility – many of whom were elderly,” remarked Mr Uddin.
For Mr Alim’s son, Sohail, it was a lifesaver. “My father was very excited at the time of his discharge,” said Sohail. “He greeted all the staff and management while leaving the response centre and thanked everyone for taking care of him.”
The establishment of the Emergency Response Centre in Booni was part of the Aga Khan Development Network’s increased efforts to ensure that those in Pakistan’s remote and isolated mountainous communities can access quality healthcare in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Part of these efforts were rapidly deployable, easy to build, adaptable technologies. AKHS,P leveraged the expertise of the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat’s (AKAH) building and construction in the remote mountainous regions of Pakistan to rapidly erect the Emergency Response Centres in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral. With the support of partners such as Better Shelter, prefabricated materials and modular designs were used for rapid construction.
The training provided to these Emergency Response Centres by the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) in Karachi, has been critical to ensuring that the provision of healthcare in these areas remains current and at the highest standard, including as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and new information comes to light. The Aga Khan University Hospital and global health experts have provided training to AKHS,P clinical personnel on various aspects of COVID-19 related treatment, including managing critical patients, waste management, handling of PPE kits, screening strategies, and collecting, storing and transporting specimens.
The inauguration of a second Emergency Response Centre in Garamchasma last month and a third Centre earlier this month in Mastuj has increased the overall capacity in Chitral to 72-beds. Additionally, in Gilgit-Baltistan, AKHS,P has 51 beds for COVID-19 patients with a new facility expected to open in Hunza in August.